Whatever its aim, fundraising is a unique business. In essence, we sell ideas: aspirations, solutions, better futures that hinge on a little compassion or foresight. Whether asking for funds to elect the next president or funds to purchase the next round of t-ball uniforms, fundraising requires many different approaches based on the same principles. At every level of fundraising, your target audience wants to be part of something. Describing and selling that something is the first line of the job description.
Social issues are difficult to understand, more difficult to prove, and almost always packed with enough hidden variables to make conclusions cloudy and difficult at best. The trick is to keep it simple. Your audience doesn’t need to understand Einstein to be aware of gravity. Similarly, unless it is the direct focus of your organization, your audience doesn’t need to be bogged down in the root causes of poverty or complicated social theories. They need to see an image that reflects the problem and understand the manner in which they might contribute to the solution.
Helping your audience to understand the issue at hand is essential. Depending on the aim of your efforts, photography can do more to help your audience understand than a dozen published research papers. Issues should be packaged into the lowest common agreeable denominator when the situation allows. Sometimes, rather than create a debate, all you want to do is encourage compassion or common sense.
Once your audience truly understands the purpose for your soliciting of their money, the next step is creating a meaningful way for them to participate in the outcome. Is it true that most social problems have complex solutions? Absolutely. Should your call to action reflect these complex solutions? No way. There should be a clear correlation between what you’re asking for and what you’re trying to accomplish.
Raising funds to “cure cancer” is a great idea but too broad for most donors to process unless they have Bill Gates’ stacks of cash at home. Raising funds to help breast cancer survivors travel for treatment is narrow enough to be relatable. Put another way, donors should be able to imagine their contribution leading to a tangible benefit. The prospect of donating $20 to “cure cancer” doesn’t yield nearly as many altruism points as helping a single person.
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